Secondhand Shopping Smarts To Keep You From Bugging Out

One of my favorite ways to live greener is also at the very essence of frugality – shopping secondhand. From designer consignment to flea market finds, I love anything and everything gently used.

I pretty much refuse to buy childrens’ clothing new, seeing no point in spending extra money and landfill space on items they’ll barely wear. I also love to buy most of my own clothes secondhand, feeling no guilt and plenty of excitement finding fabulous pieces at consignment shops. I can be green and still wear Chanel! Coffee mugs, toy trains, tablecloths – they all go on my list for the flea markets. And if I want something in particular, I can almost always find it on Craigslist for a steal.

That said, there are times when my green and frugal instincts can override plain common sense.

For instance, this weekend my husband and I drove by a huge yard sale packed with children’s toys. These are my favorite, filled with outgrown and super cheap toys and clothes. Despite seeing an overflow of booster seats and baby bathtubs with a generous layer of dirt, we grabbed two decent looking toys for a grand total of $1.50 and figured we had nothing to lose. I asked the man selling the items if he was moving, and he responded by saying something like, “No, I just have lots of this stuff in my attic.” Strange, but we weren’t going to argue with less than two bucks.

During the drive home, it occured to us that this guy was probably a trash picker who made his living with “yard sales.” Kinda gross, but we figured we’d just give these things a thorough cleaning and let them have their five minutes of toddler interest.

I got home and proceded to give the little toy house a good scrubbing when something ran across my counter that I’m pretty sure was a small cockroach. Having been fortunate enough not to have seen many of these guys up close, I can only assume from the fact that it would not die and it had probably come from a filth-ridden attic.


Goodbye toys. Right into the trash, landfills be damned. Counter scrubbed and just praying this thing didn’t lay eggs in my car on the ride home.

Let this be a lesson – but not one to deter you from shopping at yard sales. Yard sales are brilliant for finding cast-offs from families with growing children or preparing for a move. But if you start to get the feeling that something’s not completely kosher, you might be better off just driving by.

That said, here are a few tools of the trade to keep you from getting a buggy deal:

1. Talk to the folks you are purchasing from. Whether it’s in person at a yard sale or flea market or online. Moms on the move make for a great, green bargain. But if something seems too good to be true (say a yard full of 50 cent toys), you might be in a real dump.

2. When shopping on Craigslist, make sure to get as much information as possible about why the seller is selling and what kind of condition the item is in. When making plans to buy or sell, do not go to any homes alone or invite people to your home when no one else is there. Try to meet somewhere neutral, like a coffee shop. For something larger, bring a friend or make sure you have a neighbor come by during delivery.

3. Consignment shops and upscale resale stores are usually very particular about what they will sell. The stores I buy and sell to are so meticulous, I’ve actually been offended when they wouldn’t take my J Crew blazer.  I have friends who refuse to shop for secondhand clothes, actually afraid of “bed bugs.” The funny thing is, I’ve never heard of bed bugs from anything at a resale store. But I have heard of breakouts of bed bugs at high end retailers and the offices of Elle Magazine.

4. Let me know if you find anything I might like. I wear a size 10 on a good day.

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